Service Learning – Connecting volunteerism with the classroom

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They’re giving back: engaged in programs to help build their communities and their own future careers at the same time.

They are Mott Community College students participating in service learning projects.

What is service learning? 

Service learning involves the application of concepts and skills that students acquire in the classroom to actual community needs. The National Service Learning Clearinghouse defines service learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

Students will often become contributing citizens as a result of the service learning they perform.

Service learning allows students to use what they learn in the classroom to provide important services, usually by working hand-in-hand with area nonprofit organizations. Students will often become contributing citizens as a result of the service learning they perform.

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Why is service learning important? 

“Service learning is significant because it meets an existing community need that couldn’t be met through other means while at the same time improving the abilities, skills and future job prospects of student participants,” said Brian Ivory, MCC Honors Program Coordinator, who also works as the Experiential Learning Consultant with MCC’s Office of Professional Development and Experiential Learning.

“As an institution of higher education, our fundamental objective is to improve students’ learning and their chances for future career success,” added Dale Weighill, Executive Dean of Professional Development and Experiential Learning at MCC. “Research shows service learning is a very effective way of teaching important course concepts to students by allowing them to experience these concepts first-hand.   We also want our students to be well-rounded. Part of the mission of Mott College as a community college is to immerse ourselves – faculty, staff and students – into our community.”

MCC takes its service learning initiatives seriously. The college maintains several formal partnerships with Flint-area nonprofit entities.

“The great partnerships we’ve formed with local organizations have opened the door for faculty who want to incorporate service learning into their courses and work directly with these agencies,” Ivory said. “They know that there’s an internal support system in place and there’s a familiarity with our institution.”

Several faculty members at MCC have successfully woven service learning into their courses.  For example, students in a Botany class are working on some of Flint’s urban farms, while others in a developmental English course improved their reading comprehension by reading to senior citizens at the Genesys’ Center for Gerontology. Culinary Arts faculty and baking students also launched the “Bake Fresh Friday” event at Carriage Town Ministries, and MCC’s Campus Clowns, part of a communications course in the Honors Program, have presented anti-bullying assemblies at local elementary schools.

“Service learning can have a direct impact on student retention.”

“We’re creating a culture here where faculty members understand that service learning can help them achieve their student learning objectives,” Weighill added. “Service learning can also give students who may be averse to a traditional classroom experience a constructive outlet for their energy, passion and interest. You often see students’ eyes light up when they are off campus and making connections in the broader community.  In this way, service learning can have a direct impact on student retention.”

Service learning programs benefit students in many ways, and they generally find the activities fulfilling.

“Our students do find service learning meaningful,” Ivory added. “They find that it deepens their connection to the community. We hope a sense of civic engagement results and when they graduate and begin working in their professions, they’ll be both civic-minded citizens and more capable workers. That meets the mission of our institution and, of course, is a benefit for the students themselves.”

“The great thing about service learning is students learn by doing,” Weighill said. “We feel that in the long-term, these service learning projects will help students not only become better citizens, but more effective employees.”

Adds Ivory: “They’ll have the opportunity to apply what they are learning in a real-world setting that meets a real-world need. In addition, they’ll gain experience that they can put on their resumes – something that will separate them from other job candidates. It’s a win-win.”

Sharon Campbell

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